Self Mastery: The Long Run Benefits Mind and Body
Call me weird, but my long run has always been my favorite run of the week. It’s an event I look forward to with all the excitement of a kid in a candy store, except it’s better than that. It’s a time when I get to do some of my favorite things … for as long as I want! It’s a time I get to spend relaxing, slowing down, taking in nature’s beauty, planning projects, socializing with friends, and generally just enjoying being alive. Did I forget to mention running? Oh yes, most definitely that too. In my eyes it doesn’t get any better than being out on a “Sunday drive.”
All the things I do when I’m out on my long run help to deeply nourish my mind and soul. But what does my body get in return from all this fun I’m having? A number of things. In this article we’ll talk about the enormous body and mind-altering benefits of the long run, and secondly, how to make your long run as effective, efficient and enjoyable as possible (hint: in ChiRunning style, learning to relax is a big part of being successful).
The Benefits of the Long Run for the Body
- Improves aerobic capacity for more efficient oxygen intake
- You’ll become a hybrid, burning different fuels (including fat) more efficiently
- You’ll learn to master your ChiRunning skills and become a better runner
- Your body will learn to be more relaxed, the benefit of which is immeasurable
- You’ll become a master of your body, and be able to accomplish any goal you set for yourself
The Benefits of the Long Run for the Mind
- Your will learn to focus and relax your mind
- You can enjoy yourself and your surroundings
- You will learn patience as you run longer and longer distances
- You’ll learn to use your mind to overcome adversity
- You’ll become a master of your mind, and be able to accomplish any goal you set for yourself
In the ChiRunning formula of Form first, then Distance, then Speed, the long run is all about taking the ChiRunning technique and holding it for increasingly longer periods of time.
There is no special measurement of a long run. What is important is that once a week, you run a little bit longer – measured either by distance or time – than any of the other individual runs in your weekly program. If you are training for a half or full marathon, your long runs may eventually build up to the race distance itself a few weeks before your event. You will also be running at a more relaxed pace than your regular runs. For the long run, you want to build distance and consistency, not speed.
Become a Hybrid
Keeping your pace well within your aerobic range for longer periods of time will elevate the quality of all your other runs. Increasing your aerobic capacity builds more extensive capillary beds in your muscles and lungs, which in turn trains your body to have a more efficient oxygen exchange. All of this talk is to get you to slow down and take it easy on your long runs. Like I said before. It’s not the time for speed
It’s important to do your long run at a slower speeds for good reason. Generally speaking, anytime you run for longer than thirty minutes, your body begins burning it’s stored fuel in a different way. Instead of being fueled primarily by glycogen (which is a quick-burning, fight-or-flight fuel) your body “learns” to burn the slower-burning fat contained in your muscle fibers and become rather stingy with burning your stored glycogen. It’s like your body takes on the qualities of a hybrid car which burns a combination of stored fuel (electricity) and gasoline. In the case of your body, you’re burning a mix of fat (stored fuel) and glycogen instead of burning mostly glycogen (gasoline).
There’s a lot to be said for practicing the art of staying consistently relaxed for long periods of time. Doing so leaves you with the ability to settle yourself, both physically and mentally. Staying relaxed and smart in the midst of adversity should be every athlete’s goal. It’s the prime directive of our running and walking programs and you will ultimately discover, as others have, that it opens up the door to self-mastery.
Here is how to make the most of your long run:
• Spend the day before hydrating. Drink lots of water all day so your body is well hydrated when you head out on your long run.
• Avoid any activities that will tire your legs. Sorry, no heavy gardening or museums.
• Eat a good carbohydrate meal the night before. No protein or spicey foods, please. Keep it simple and clean-burning. There’s nothing worse than having distress in your lower digestive tract when you’re out there on the road.
• Plan your route. Know where you are going to go. Decide whether you will run a loop or an out and back, and whether there are any water sources along the way.
• Let someone know where you are going and roughly what time to expect you back.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Clothes and equipment: Lay out your clothes, socks and shoes the night before so you don’t have to hunt around the bottom of your closet in the dark, only to discover that your favorite shirt is still in the wash. If you carry your fluids, prepare your bottles the night before and have your fuel belt or hydration pack laid out and ready to go. Then in the morning just get your bottles out of the refrigerator and you are ready to go. Remember that once you warm up, the temperature may feel 10-20 degrees (F) warmer than it really is. Also, if you start your run in the early morning, be aware that the day may warm up quite a bit while you are out there, so choose your clothes with those thoughts in mind. It may feel like long sleeves and tights when you wake up but after a few minutes of running you might wish you had on lighter gear.
• On the morning of your run spend a little extra time doing your ChiRunning body Looseners (pg.98 of the ChiRunning book) followed by the Grounding Stance and get yourself as relaxed as you possibly can. There’s no need to bring along any tension here.
Here are things to keep you focused while you’re out there on your run:
• Set the countdown timer on your watch to beep every 10 minutes to remind you to check in with your posture, your ChiRunning technique, your level of relaxation, and to drink a mouthful of water.
• Practice your ChiRunning skills. Look at the list of focuses at the end of Chapter Four in the book (pg. 92) and pick two or three to work on throughout your run.
• Let your mind and body get into the consistent rhythm of your cadence. It can be very relaxing and meditative. Just watching your footsteps keeps you in the moment and takes your mind off of how far you’ve come or how far you’re going. It brings you back into the present moment which knocks out any chance of boredom and builds patience (which we could all use more of).
As I said, I look forward to my long run all week. I enjoy every minute of being out running and I know when I come back I’ll be in that great space that only a long run brings on…a relaxed, pleasantly fatigued, peaceful place of knowing I’ve just benefited my whole being.